It’s fair to say that I was pretty excited to review the Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra. I’ve been really tempted by the Sense range since it was introduced a few years ago but it’s taken until the third iteration for me to finally bite the bullet and see what all the fuss is about.
Salomon describe the Sense 3 Ultra as a racing shoe but the line has proven so popular that many runners also use them for day-to-day training. They are a light weight trail and mountain shoe that is designed for hard and dry to damp conditions. Their flexibility and low heel-to-toe drop make them minimal(ish) and therefore best suited to those who have prior experience running in shoes of this category.
Essentially, this shoe is now very similar to the red and black sense ultra but without the extended rock plate. I contacted Salomon about the changes and they informed me that they are primarily aimed at increasing durability.
I’ve heard a lot about the snug fit of the Sensifit upper and it didn’t disappoint! The Sense Ultra 3 is very close fitting around the midfoot and I found that the toe-box has just enough room so that my toes didn’t feel like they were being squished (I have D-width feet). For me, the fit was perfect but those with wider feet may encounter problems. For comparison purposes, I’d say the fit and sizing is quite similar to the New Balance Mt110 V1 but I had to go a half-size up from what I usually take in Inov-8’s. Running Warehouse report that the forefoot stack height is the same as the MT110 but the Sense 3 Ultra feels a bit taller and the midsole offers more protection. The smooth interior is just about the best I’ve experienced in a trail shoe and this lead me to wear them sockless from the first run. I ended up regretting this a little as I picked up some chafing around my achilles but I’ve had no problems since so I think this was just part of bedding them in.
It’s been pretty darn wet in the UK for the past few months but I set out to find terrain that the Sense 3 is designed to work best on i.e. firm/ rocky and technical but not too muddy. I found that the sense 3 performed flawlessly in these conditions. The balance between ground-feel and underfoot protection is exquisite and they immediately make you want to run fast on technical terrain. Grip on hard ground is excellent and the traction on moderate mud far exceeded my expectations whilst running on steady inclines. It’s a different story when you encounter steep mud or wet grass but this is the territory for the Soft Ground Model which I’ve reviewed here. The midsole material feels firm (which I like) but despite this, they are pretty darn flexible and I suspect this is why Salomon haven’t extended the rock-plate to the midfoot. The snug fit means that they feel incredibly secure when tackling steep terrain which instills confidence and makes you go faster. The protective toe-cap feels surprisingly robust and I think the way that it blends seamlessly into the overlays is a really nice design. I’ve given them numerous thorough soakings in muddy puddles and the new upper seems to do a good job of keeping dirt out and draining water. There have been a lot of superlatives written about this line of shoes and I was convinced that there would be an element of marketing-hype in this but I have to say that overall, I was totally blown away by the Sense 3 Ultra.
There is a section that has been cut-out from the outsole in the midfoot area and I suspect this is to save weight and increase flexibility. This means there is only a thin section of foam between your foot and potential pointy objects as the rock-plate doesn’t extend into the midfoot. This hasn’t caused me a problem so-far but it’s a vulnerable area and I think I’d be happy to sacrifice a small amount of flexibility for additional protection. My feet are fairly durable so I’m not too worried about this but if you are, you should check out the 2013 Sense Ultra before it is discontinued as it has the longer pro-feel plate. The longer rock-plate is also a feature of the softground version of the shoe and this decision seems a bit back-to-front in my opinion because it’s much more likely that I’d be using the standard sense 3 than the softground on rocky terrain. I think I’d also like to see a bit more material around the forefoot area to provide further protection and durability in addition to the excellent toe-cap. My pair are holding up well so far but I’ve not had chance to test them on scree yet and It’ll be interesting to see how they cope with this. I will keep the post updated and report any problems.
Now I understand what all of the fuss is about….. Whilst I there are a couple of minor things I’d change about these shoes, I have to say that I am a very impressed with the Sense 3 Ultra and it may well be the best trail and mountain shoe that I’ve ever tried for rocks and dry consitions. They are a premium-price product but I feel that this is justified by excellent performance. If you are weighing up whether to go for these or the existing sense ultra, I think that decision is going to be based on whether you’d rather have the extra flexibility of the Sense 3 or the extended rock plate of the 2013 version. These shoes were purchased by the author
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Please click here to find my update on the durability of the sense 3 ultra
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